I was in first year college when a group of senior students invited me and my close group of ‘first year’ friends to a picnic at the end of what they called the ‘ragging season’. The spiel they gave was that they wanted to get to know us better, to bury the hatchet and become friends. It sounded like quite an offer considering that this could be an opportunity to finally live out Nehru’s words of ‘where the mind is without fear and the head is held high’, for till then most of us, barring the few madmen like me, were living like African slaves in the midst of Klu Klux Klan territory. The deal was simple. The seniors would pick us up on the following Sunday morning, drive us out to their friend’s farm house, spend the day ‘getting to know each other’ and have some fun feasting on biriyani. For those of you who have gone through college in a land away from home, you would know that the bait of a biriyani is irresistible.
Came Sunday morning and our bunch walked toward the designated pick up spot and lo and behold stood a big bus that could fit forty people in it. We soon realized there were other freshers invited to the same do. This was going to be bigger than we thought. Before long we set off from there to the farm house. Being new to Bangalore, my only gauge to finding out how far we were then venturing was based on the dwindling traffic count and on the width of the roads getting narrower. The last fifteen minutes of the journey was on unmettled roads with no other vehicle in sight. We were soon in the middle of nowhere. When the bus finally stopped, the sight that greeted us was another surprise. There were five more buses like the one we travelled in already parked at the venue. It was only on entering the farm house that we realized the magnitude of what we had gotten ourselves into and we were subjected to our final jolt on reading the banner that welcomed us – ‘The Jesus Retreat’
We had been lured to a religious camp with the promise of biriyani. We were now no different from the donkey that followed the carrot at the end of a stick, which again is not very different from those who wait to die and go to heaven. We were fools stuck in the middle of nowhere in an era with no cell phones or GPS devices. There was no access to public transport, heck there was no road, our itinerary was decided and we had no escape. That day I saw things I had never seen before. There were people crying asking forgiveness for sins, jumping around possessed by the spirit, experiencing the spirit knock illnesses out of them, dunking themselves in water (baptism) being born again and so on. The last time I had seen something like that was at a trance party where everyone was stoned on acid and grass. Though they’d protest to classify the former as ‘sacred’, the emotions I saw at both the events were exactly the same – psychotic.
Years later, I saw glimpses of a similar event on the facebook wall of a pastor. Pictures of people being lured to a farmhouse with the offer of a picnic suddenly interspersed with the pastor standing in the middle of a swimming pool dipping people in it in the name of baptism. It’s herd mentality and peer pressure at its best. I responded and here is the story –